A Gambler’s Guide to Dying
Gary McNair @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio
3:30pm, Sat 13 Feb 2016
My first trip out to Holden Street for this (sure-to-be-svelte) Fringe yielded no real surprises; as a venue, it’s cultivated its charm, and has no need to change. But there’s a disappointingly thin crowd in attendance for A Gambler’s Guide To Dying – sure, it’s early in the season, but I’d got the impression that Holden Street’s Edinburgh Fringe Award carried a little more cachet… I had hoped that it’d drag the crowds in prior to reviews appearing.
After the house lights drop, Gary McNair takes to the stage with little fanfare… and the stage itself is bare, save a chair or two. His story centres around his grandfather, who had placed a winning bet on the outcome of the 1966 World Cup… a brave move in Scotland at the time, and one which earned him the physical ire of others in the community. This bold bet typified his grandfather’s approach to gambling, so – when he was diagnosed with cancer in the late nineties – he bet (against the odds) that he would live to see in the new millennium.
McNair’s characters are brilliantly realised, and the relationship between grandfather & grandson is tangible; the description of the elder introducing the younger to gambling (and the rituals they develop together) is gorgeous. His script is beautifully paced, too, encouraging a tension as the hours tick down towards the New Year, with huddles of anxious – for multiple reasons – family gathering to celebrate the patriarch’s big win… or commiserate his loss (in more ways than one).
Gareth Nicholls’ direction is minimalist, with McNair relatively static throughout – there’s only an occasional movement onstage. But whilst McNair doesn’t roam much, his presence and presentation just demanded my attention; MJ McCarthy’s sound design is fantastic, too, with perfectly timed murmurs and punctuations guiding the monologue along.
I really, really enjoyed A Gambler’s Guide To Dying: it was good, honest theatre built atop a wonderfully human script… and McNair – who I bumped into a week later at The Human Project v1.1 – proved to be an incredibly charming chap. I can only hope that, after the positive reviews appeared in the local press, that more people took the trip out to Holden Street to check this great bit of work out.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) February 13, 2016